Smooth Criminal

Karin Slaughter’s Pajamas: How I Write

She’s the queen of the fast and fierce crime novel, but she tells Noah Charney that she’s actually an extreme introvert who stays home in her pajama shorts. Plus, more ‘How I Write’ interviews with Jennifer Finney Boylan, Antony Beevor, and Lev Grossman.

Karin Slaughter’s 13 books—including her new novel, Criminal—have sold millions of copies. But someone in Finland still had the audacity to ask her to be interviewed inside a sauna. Her books are blockbusters of the crime genre, yet Slaughter says she’s a severe introvert who would rather spend time in her beloved pajama shorts than go out to bars.

Where do you live?

It sounds pretentious to say I “divide” my time, but when I am home, that usually means my house in Atlanta or my cabin in the North Georgia Mountains. The latter is where I do the majority of my writing. I travel a great deal for my books (up to six months out of the year), so when I’m home, all I want to do is be home. And I can’t imagine living anywhere other than the South.

What do you do in the morning?

My typical morning involves some time on the treadmill, but obviously I skip that a lot. Mostly, I wake up, check my email, then get to work on the various interviews and questions and phone calls that come with being an author. I always try to block out an hour or so a day to read. Being a writer is a job, and reading helps train my brain in the right direction.

When I’m actively working on a book, it’s a completely different routine. I get up, I go to my office and I work until I either pass out or can’t work anymore. It’s a really stupid way of doing things, but I’m on my 13th book now, so maybe that’s just the way it has to be.

I sit in this old recliner that has seen better days, put my laptop on a pillow in my lap, then start working, usually for 10 or 12 hours at a time. This explains the alluring c-shaped slope of my shoulders.

I’m extremely introverted. I used to think it was shyness, but I got over that, so it must be door No. 2. It’s still hard for me to be away from home much, and I have to make sure I get lots of time alone in my room when I’m touring. I don’t tend to be one of those authors who hangs out at the bar all night. I’d much rather buy a few rounds with my credit card while I’m upstairs in my pajamas reading a book.

What is your favorite item of clothing?

My pajama shorts, about which I always say: if you wear them outside, they stop being pajamas. They are men’s shorts because I need pockets, and they hang on me like a paper sack. It’s a really sexy look for me. I think my neighbors must be disappointed when they see me go to the mailbox. They’re probably thinking, “That Kathryn Stockett always looks so put-together. Why couldn’t we get her?”

How do you conceive a book?

I am going to steal an observation from my friend Sarah Waters, who said that writing is 10 minutes of pure exhilaration—those bits where you say, “they’re going to do this and then this happens and then this happens.” But the rest is just good old hard work. My brain is constantly tossing around ideas (picture a clothes dryer) and eventually, something comes out of it. Mostly lint, but sometimes an opening for a book floats to the surface. From there, I just start framing the story, usually on note cards or whatever scrap of paper I can find. Not that I outline, but I just kind of link things through dialogue and observation.

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What is guaranteed to make you laugh?

I love puns. I’ve been known to turn the car around just to take advantage of a good pun situation. It really is the highest form of humor.

I’ve never watched a full episode of that show Wipe Out, but whenever I see the commercials for it, I laugh my ass off. I’m not sure why, but there’s something hilarious to me about a person slamming into a giant rubber ball and falling into a lake of shaving cream.

Do you have any superstitions?

I’m a great believer in karma. Crappy people generally have crappy lives. I try to be polite to people because I don’t want it to blow back on me. I like numbers, generally anything to do with threes. My agent’s phone number has three sets of repeated numbers, which was one of the main reasons I chose to go with her.

What is something you always carry with you?

My Sig Sauer. And Chapstick. OK, I am lying about the gun, but it sort of made the Chapstick seem badass, right?

Was there a moment when you felt you had made it as an author?

I was in London at my editor’s house. We were having a dinner celebration of my latest book hitting the list at No. 1. As I was being driven back to my hotel in the taxi, I thought, “This is it. I’ve finally made it!” And then my editor called me the next morning and said, “Do you realize we went through six bottles of wine last night?” So that’s what it takes to make me feel like I can take a breath —enough alcohol to kill a hyena.

I was in Finland a couple of years ago, and my schedule said I would go to a sauna and then do a TV interview. I’ve been in the saunas there before—you shower, you sweat, then you jump butt-naked into the freezing cold Baltic. Fantastic stuff. I was game for a repeat of that. Thought it would be good for my jetlag. Then I got there and they told me that the interview would take place inside the sauna. And that I would be in a towel. And have to beat myself with birch sticks as I talked about my writing process. On camera. I drew the line when they told me to rip off the towel and jump into the sea, but that goes down as one of my more memorable humiliations.

What would you do for work if you were not a writer?

I’d be a watchmaker. I love figuring out puzzles and making things work. Especially if they are tiny.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read. It’s a gift that you give to yourself. It trains your mind to think critically. It hones your ear for dialogue. Even if it’s a bad book, you’re learning what not to do.

More “How I Write” Interviews:Jennifer Finney BoylanAntony BeevorLev GrossmanDavid EaglemanChad HarbachJodi Picoult